Life

Thursday 21 November 2019

Ask an expert: 'There’s no spark left in my marriage'

Each week, adult and specialist adolescent psychotherapist Belinda Kelly answers your queries

All he does is work, come home, watch sport and eat the dinners I make.
All he does is work, come home, watch sport and eat the dinners I make.

Belinda Kelly

Q: I am so fed up with my husband. All the spark has gone out of our marriage.

I have started to realise that I do everything. All he does is work, come home, watch sport and eat the dinners I make. He never cooks or helps with the housework. He never wants to do anything romantic. If we go anywhere, it’s because I arrange it, as well as finding the babysitter.

I am a stay-at-home mum to our two young boys, aged two and four. At the weekends, my husband does the shopping and takes the kids swimming. We hardly have sex any more as he’s always too tired. His lack of sexual interest in me makes me feel really unattractive. 

He has to get up very early for work to avoid the traffic. He hates his job and the people he works with, but he’s not making any effort to look for another one.

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Whenever I arrange family days out, he says he’s too tired and just wants to stay home. I have started to give up expecting anything from him. Now, I just make my own arrangements with friends or I take the boys to my parents.

I feel so tired, lonely and unwanted. This is not the life I planned for myself. He is so different from the man I married only seven years ago. I often think about my life without him, but I want my children to have their father in their lives.

 

Answer: It sounds as if you are living with an absent husband and father. I am most struck by how lonely you must feel.

Being home alone with two young boys is an exhausting and isolating experience. What usually makes it bearable is having time to bond with a partner or family at the end of the day. By sharing daily events over dinner, we support and cherish each other. Through connecting like this, we bring ourselves back to what is most precious in our lives. This then helps us to see the bigger picture and we can find pleasure in our lives.

Sexual connection is a fundamental aspect of intimate relationships. It’s a sacred dialogue between you and your partner. It’s the most private aspect of your relationship that only you two know about. And it’s joyful and fun. Being sexual can also make us feel beautiful, so I can imagine how not being wanted can feel painful and demoralising.

It must be dispiriting to experience your husband’s lack of attachment to his young family. As a father to two young boys, his withdrawal will have an impact on them.

Your husband may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or depression. The symptoms of CFS are constant fatigue, even after sleep, poor short-term memory and headaches. CFS usually appears after a viral infection.

Meanwhile, the symptoms of depression are: increased fatigue or sleep problems, irritability, a lack of interest in things that used to interest the person, and reduced or no sex drive.

You say that he’s not the man you married seven years ago. I wonder can you remember the last time he was happy or emotionally available? When did he begin to change and become more disconnected? Has he suffered any bereavements or trauma? Was he different before you had children?

Psychology researcher Matthew Johnson found that young children create significant stress in a couple’s relationship. This won’t be a surprise to anyone who is around small children. The responsibilities are endless. There are financial and emotional demands, and young children need to be constantly monitored, protected and nourished. This leaves couples with far less time together than they had before the baby came along.

Because of the intensive caretaking involved, parents are not finding time to take care of themselves — which can leave them feeling stressed and exhausted. Sometimes, one partner can disconnect, which makes them difficult to be around. I wonder how parenting has affected your relationship, and if your husband was different before the boys were born? When do you remember laughing and having fun together?

Frustration

You mention that he hates his job. For men, their sense of self is very invested in their work lives. They can become over-identified with their work and this can cause a lot of internalised frustration. He may be feeling really angry at himself and how stuck he is in his life.

He also seems to dislike his colleagues — when someone is feeling very low, they will often view everything though a negative lens.

However, your husband is not an island. He is a father and is in a partnership with you. As a parent, he needs to get help in order to be a positive role model for his sons.

As your partner, he needs to reconnect with you again to have the relationship that you both deserve.

Intimate relationships need fun and novelty in order to thrive. Otherwise, they stagnate and lose their vitality. I recommend that he goes to his GP and gets a full set of blood tests to rule out any underlying health issues. If they prove negative, he needs to see a professional to talk about what’s making him feel so lethargic and empty.

He could explore his own childhood and examine how fatherhood has impacted his sense of self. This would also give him time to consider his work and to be gently challenged over how he might make some positive changes.

If your husband isn’t interested in changing, then you will need to consider couples therapy. There, you will find a safe, neutral place to express yourself. This will also give you the freedom to consider your own future and how you choose to live your life.

 

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